The German surname of SENFT is generally referred to as an occupational name for a dealer in mustard, or a nickname for someone with a fiery temper. The name was derived from the Old German word SENEF, and rendered in ancient documents in the Latin form SINAPI. The name may also have applied to a spicer, which was an important occupation in the middle Ages.

I must give this an edit as the following graph shown below will show. The word is SENF not SENFT, on the other hand I used to make handmade mustard like crazy. Brown mustard seed, Black mustard seed, different vinegars and ingredients. I personally loved my garlic mustard. In the middle ages it was considered quite a magical condiment.
Another variant refers to senfte as a German: nickname for a helpful or friendly person, from Middle High German senfte ‘soft’, ‘accommodating’. My own recollection is that SENFT was also a reference to having the final word – to put ones SENFT on something, much like a notary. You take your pick.

sample sentences:
I benutze Senf um die Soße meines Salates zu machen.
I use mustard to make the dressing of my salad.
Französischer Senf French mustard
Englischer Senf English mustard
grober Senf wholegrain mustard
dein Senf your mustard
senf mustard

The nobles and wealthy churchmen spent considerable money on mustard, aniseed, cinnamon, caraway, coriander and pepper to enable the cooks to spice meat which tended to spoil quickly in the absence of modern refrigeration. Vinegared foods and fermented foods like sauerkraut would keep many a family alive.

Many of the modern family names throughout Europe reflect the profession or occupation of their forbears in the middle Ages and derive from the position held by their ancestors in the village, household or community in which they lived and worked. The addition of their profession to their birth name made it easier to identify individual tradesmen and craftsmen. Names like Bauer, Cooper, Scharschmidt, Becker, Zimmerman or Fischer. This site offers more on this subject.

As generations passed and families moved around, so the original identifying names developed into the corrupted but simpler versions by the addition of another letter, especially the needed vowels. Other spellings of the name include SEMPF, SENFF, SENIFT, SANIFT, SENFTEBER, SENFTEBEN, SANFTLEBEN, ZENFTMAN and ZENTMAN. After recovering the data from a yr. 2000 Family Tree Maker I found some 3,500 unrelated souls. In that Maternal list Schinnagl had Schinagl’s and Schoenberger’s became Schoenenbergers. Schoen was an even older name version.

Little known was how massive the number of immigrants was. Between 1850 and 1857 alone more than 4 million Germans arrived through the ports of Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. Germans also settled in Texas, Mexico and Argentina. Many came from the Ukraine and Russia after relations there went south and the Dakota’s reminded them of their former home. Another article someday. Of course many Rhinelander’s and Hessian s were also recruited to serve in the Revolutionary war and latter would fight in the Indian wars, explaining the large populations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This census map explains much. Slow loading!

In order to better fit in Germans transformed their names by dropping or adding a single letter – preferably a vowel.* Many re-spelt their names like one would trade in an old shoe. In one of my records one family changed their name with every generation. The SENFT became SENIFT and then Sanift. A great number of immigrants from Germany settled in Pennsylvania, the Dakota’s and Texas. World War 1 encouraged many Germans to Americanize their names in an effort to remove all doubt as to their patriotism. Some changed back, and with  World War II,   the name changing started all over again, although not so intensely. I never heard if the Senft name ever evolved in Texas, Mexico or Argentina.  Perhaps I should look for mostaza‘s 🙂

German farmers in the Dakota's

German farmers in the Dakota’s

As a footnote I must agree with the agricultural or manual occupations that many SENFT’S would take. Most were farmers and many are in the trades as was my father.  He was a master cabinet maker and I became a Nurseryman. Still agriculture and the following link will show the major professions that Senfts are involved in.

With that I put my mustardy SENFT on it!
*Just recently, a CZECH waiting behind me at the grocery checkout complemented me on having such a vowel free name. It made my day!

Olympic  wildflowers 
 As a footnote my maternal line comes from the beautiful name of Morgenstern – meaning by all accounts ‘Morning Star’. Less noted is that it could also refer to a deadly weapon very widely used in this Bohemian (Mad Ludwig) region of Bavaria. My other maternal line comes from Schoenberger which by all accounts means ‘Beautiful Mountain’ which explains why I live on the Olympic Peninsula of WA. My mother always mused that it reminded her of her birthplace near Innsbruck Austria, Bad Aibling in Bavaria. Sadly she had only a few years left in this beautiful place. 

Two further edits: My father Ernest Senft had two brothers, Willi and Pepp. Pepp is another nickname for Pepper. The name  comes from Middle English peper, piper, Middle Low German peper ‘pepper’, another occupational name for a spicer; alternatively, it may be a nickname for a small man (as if the size of a peppercorn) …  Mustard & Pepper, how funny is that!

Actually that nickname also became part of the European method of adopting or splicing names based upon either:

  • Patronymic Surnames – These last names are based on a parent’s name such as – ALBERTSSON – son of Albert)
  • Occupational Surnames – These surnames are based on the person’s job or trade. The Smith, Schmidt, Scharschmidt, Armburster, Baumgartner, Baker,Cartwright, Wheeler or Fisher or say Hall,’given to one who either lived in or worked in a hall’ (the house of a medieval noble).
  • Descriptive Surnames – I  like these the best.These would be based on a unique quality of the individual. Knicknames so to speak regarding temperament or of their physical appearance. These were common in the medieval times, but most have been upgraded to more modern surnames. Who would want to be called ‘Peter the short.’ Short, Brown, Whitehead. Or worse: Mizerak (Polish) meaning, starveling, weakling or miserable creature. Toro, I like. Quisling Not. ‘Tall’ might have been a sarcastic one.
  • Geographical or Physical Surnames – These surnames are based on a person’s residence, like the Schoenbergers, People near a beautiful mountain, or ‘Morgenstern’ which I still interpret related to the ‘Morning Star’ a weapon, not the wussed up planet Venus. Some namings were based upon former places or residence (Maria Romano – Mary from Rome) Jack London, Frankfurter, etc.
  • For myself i prefer botanical names. Bean,  Honeysuckle, Fern, Eglantine, Darnell, Willow or anything Latin like Cicero

 (C) Herb Senft


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  1. I have to say this is one of the most interesting and educational genealogy pages I have ever read!!! What a fine name you have. I have not read all the links yet but will. I loved the Recipes and can’t wait to try some of them. I learned so much about mustard. I must also say the page is very easy to read and use. I really, really love the back ground and the tree art work above—very tasteful!!!! Thank you for this page–Jan

  2. Went to Germany recently. My father is a senft. Mother is a schudiske. Grandparents parents came from there a certain area in germany 1800s they mi h ht hail from. My husband was a pfundheller

  3. In the 50,s I was in the Air Force and one day was the Officer of the Day. I was called in to help two officers that had just flown in.One of them looked at my name badge and said “Your name means mustard. I was a POW in Germany and ca the food was so bland”n tell you the names of every spice in German” That is how I learned the meaning of my name.

    • Actually the spelling would be SENF without the T. Senfgelb would describe mustard yellow. I got into trouble once by connecting to the webmaster of ‘Senftenburg’ in Germany. I asked her if the town was known for its mustard fields and or in the production of mustard. In typical German no nonsense – no sense of humor she basically thought I was xxxing her. Seems the town is like a Detroit – a manufacturing town and the name came abut after a famous Senft from the medieval times.

      It is the same for jumping to conclusions such as MORGENSTERN meaning Morning star. NOPE the reference there was to a medieval weapon of war.

  4. What a great read. We are currently planning a short trip to Holland (my wife’s is Dutch) and I was curious to where most Senft’s came from. I am just getting into my geniology and am curious if you have any information? My grandfather was Alfred Senft, he can from a large family with 27 brothers and sisters in it (2 mothers, one father). Any info would be appreciated.

    Thank you,


  5. I am a Senft, born 1947 in Kassel. My mother was a Senft, born 1920 in Stettin. Her father was Robert Senft and her mother was Kaethe Wurm Senft.
    I don’t know much about the family, but all I know is that my mother had a younger sister – Ursula.
    Anyone know about my line of Senft?

  6. Hello! I am a fellow SENFF from Ross County, Ohio, USA! I’m researching my German SENFF family and am at a brick wall (10 years) on my 4th GGF, Casper (Caspar,Kasper,Kaspar) SENFF (or any of the 13 other spelling variants). I would appreciate it if you would contact me sometime regarding your family. I am on,, WikiTree and others. My dad, my younger sister and myself have done DNA
    testing. If you have also done DNA testing, would you like to compare our DNA results?

    Cooking and baking must run deep in our German blood as I am also a huge “Foodie” and so is my daughter and one of my nieces.

    I hope you will respond to my email address. Thank you and thank you for this page and the recipes!

    Rita SENFF Kern

  7. Thx for the info …. just left Austria and was also curious about my ancestors . There is a line of Jewish Senft’s. Turns out my great great grandfather was a Rsbbi and a Senft who left with his family from Austria in 1884 for New York. So there is a line of Jewish Senft defendants . There may be a possibility it was spelled semnft and was changed . We are researching that .thx for your article

  8. I am a Senft in New York though my father and grandfather were born in Boston. Apparently, they had little to do with agriculture. My grandfather Jacob Senft and Rough Rider, a buddy of Teddy Roosevelt. Since my father was the youngest of seven I know of no one of my generation still alive. I have little knowledge of my ancestry but suspect since my grandfather was born in Boston, the family had assimilated into Boston social life. When he dared to marry my grandmother, Bessie his parents may have disowned him since she was a peasant from Austria. They then moved to New York. From the comments above I assume few Jewish Senfts live in the US.

  9. My 3rd great grandmother is a Senft. Her name is Susan Senft. ( her name has several variations of spelling) she was born in 1819 in Perry County, Ohio and married William Russell Freeman. We have her history from her marriage but don’t know who her parents are or back from there. Very interested to know if you might have any information? Thank you for the wonderful article and hope to hear back from you.

  10. My father has done some extensive research. He has found that our last name was originally Senft and later changed to Sinift by census takers that only spoke English. Several generations lived in and around Perry County Ohio, by way of York, Pennsylvania.

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